I shouldn’t like Zach Bryan’s Music, but I do

How the Oklahoma native puts a universal spin on country music

Oludare Obadiya

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Zach Bryan’s “American Heartbreak” is not your average country album

Let me start this off by saying I’ve always had a distaste for country music. In a conversation with the Editor-In-Chief of The Spectator, Sam Johnson, an interesting comparison between country music and hip-hop was made.

The gist of it was that, culturally speaking, the two basically sit on different sides of the same coin. As a hip-hop loyalist this analysis was a little hard to stomach, but it checks out. 

Whether it be subject matter or the socioeconomic class of their core listeners, the two share some similarities and sort of mean the same thing to different people. 

This point, while valid, changed nothing. There’s a couple reasons I can cite for my negative feelings regarding the current state of country music.

The repetitive, southern drawl that saturates most of its popular songs rings in my ears any time it’s played around me. It can be charming in conversation, but something about it when it’s sung gets old in a hurry.

Also, while they lend a hand to its admittedly catchy nature, the general simplicity and lack of creativity of a lot of its lyrics can be irksome. How many ways can you talk about beer, women and trucks before it gets repetitive? Hint—not a whole lot.

Then there’s the overall apathy it seems the country music community has concerning social issues, a prime example being when country mega-star Morgan Wallen was caught on tape using a racial slur repeatedly. 

The initial response from his fan base was neutrality mixed with a twinge of support and in the long run his numbers actually skyrocketed, this topic alone could probably be its own article. 

All that being said, I’m here today to talk about a country singer whose music has truly captivated me recently. 

I know I just took a pretty sharp left turn, but allow me to set the scene. 

My roommate Brent and I were in his car driving around downtown. As we drove, a song I had never heard began playing from the speakers. It started off with a mellow acoustic guitar, followed by a passionate, southern voice.

The song was almost over by the time I was able to swallow my pride and ask Brent what it was. I found this so difficult because my asking was also an admission that I was in fact enjoying the country music coming from Brent’s car speakers. 

Brent is abundantly aware of my feelings toward country music, mostly because I’ve obnoxiously pontificated lines similar to the ones at the beginning of this article to him any chance I could get.

Because of this, he couldn’t help but smirk as he told me the name of the song and the artist. The title was “Blue” and it was sung by Zach Bryan

I’m being completely honest — if not a tad dramatic — when I say that I truly struggled coming to terms with my love for this song and this artist. 

Days following the incident, I had convinced myself it was a fluke, a one off. There was no way that I — proud country-hater — actually liked the music of a country singer. 

But when I finally mustered up the courage to listen to the album the song was from, my worst fears were realized. 

It was so good. 

For reasons I will attempt to explain, Bryan’s album “American Heartbreak” managed to touch this country-hater’s soul. 

Reason Number One: It Bends Genres

I think it’s important I make this point first, Bryan is definitely not strictly a country artist.

Musically, the genre may be his “homebase” so to speak, but his songs frequently adopt the harmonica-riffing, storytelling ways of folk. I’ve also heard him described as more of an indie artist.  

And his meaningful, oftentimes romantic lyrics, when paired with his powerful, slightly raspy voice don’t necessarily add up to the genre of soul, but they are definitely soul-ful. This is most apparent when his music is juxtaposed to others in contemporary country music. 

Perhaps this is just his talent bringing the best out of the genre, which leads to my next point.

Bryan is a Singer-Songwriter Extraordinaire

As far as subject matter goes, Bryan is not breaking any barriers. In his music, he sings about love, the places he’s been and the people he was there with. When explained like this his music sounds pretty simple, dare I say plain, but this description doesn’t quite do it justice. 

Bryan has an uncanny ability to translate his lived experiences into compelling songwriting. And when he sings about love, it’s not in the half-baked, superficial manner adopted by many of his contemporaries.

It feels earnest, forthright, like he’s giving a glimpse into his broken heart to anyone willing to listen. 

This pairs well with his voice. Further setting himself apart from the rest of the country crowd, there is nothing easy-going or laid back about Bryan’s vocal delivery. 

On the contrary, you can often hear his voice straining as he packs as much emotion as he can into the words he sings. And with a tracklist over 30 songs long, “American Heartbreak” has a good amount of emotion to get through. 

Conclusion

So this is where Bryan’s music has left me: sympathizing with the love stories of a person I’ve never met, and questioning my identity as a music listener. 

If you haven’t listened to “American Heartbreak” I strongly suggest you do so. And if nothing else was accomplished here, I hope the last 900 words serve as a reminder to stay open-minded.

Obadiya can be reached at [email protected]